Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights

Taiwanese Activists Cold to Human Rights Claims

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TAIPEI, Apr 23 2012 (IPS) - The first official national human rights report issued by Taiwan’s rightist Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government disappointed civil society and human rights advocates, who have described the document as “an empty shell” and “insincere”.

The report was released Apr. 20 by President and ruling KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou just over three years after Taiwan’s national legislature ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Since it is not a member of the United Nations, the Taiwan government could not deposit the ratifications with the UN Secretariat and instead incorporated both covenants directly into domestic law through an implementation statute effective Dec. 10, 2009.

Entitled ‘The National Human Rights Report of the Republic of China’, the three-volume document contains a review of Taiwan’s accession to the two covenants, an overview of economic, political, social and cultural conditions and an article by article assessment of the government’s compliance with the articles of two covenants and the implementation law.

President Ma stated that he was “pleased” with the publication of the report, which he emphasised was drafted “not for the sake of appearances but to really bring domestic human rights standards in line with the world.”

The president said his administration would work to improve its human rights performance by completing revisions of laws and regulations in line with the requirements of the two covenants and by intensifying education and training in human rights concepts for government officials, who he said, “are the most prone to infringe on human rights.”


However, Covenants Watch convenor Kao Yung-cheng, a former member of the presidential human rights commission, stated that the content of the report showed that the Ma government had “bounced its cheque” on human rights.

On behalf of the 53-organisation coalition formed to monitor Taiwan’s implementation of the two covenants, Kao said the report “avoided substantive discussion of numerous human rights issues and even ignored many current incidents of grave infringement on fundamental human rights.”

Kao said publication of the report “was a grave irony” in the light of recent “institutional government violations of basic human rights”, including “judicial persecution of citizens, curbs on the people’s right of free expression, unrestrained forced takeover of farmland and evictions in urban renewal projects.”

The Covenants Watch convenor also stated that the Ma government had failed to fulfill the implementation statute’s requirement that all laws, regulations and measures contravening the two covenants had to be revised or eliminated within two years or by Dec. 10, 2011.

Kao said that the government had failed to revamp or abrogate 76 of 263 laws or regulations earmarked for revision, including restrictions on human rights in the Assembly and Parade Law, Labour Insurance Law, the Statute for the Resolution of Laboor-Management Disputes, the Union Law, the Nationalities Law and the Criminal Code as well as several laws that restrict freedom of expression or freedom of the press.

A press release issued by Covenants Watch portrayed the new report with picture of an ostrich with its head buried in the ground.

Among the aspects that attracted criticism from human rights advocates was the absence of any indication that the Ma government would reverse its decision to end a five-year tacit moratorium on executions begun under the previous Democratic Progressive Party government that was broken with the execution of four death sentences on Apr. 30, 2010 and five on Mar. 4, 2011.

At the news conference, Ma promised to “gradually eliminate the death penalty” by dropping mandatory death penalties from the legal code, reducing the scope of “relative death penalties” in criminal law and urging prosecutors to refrain from requesting death sentences. Ma declared that death penalties will only be carried out after all legal channels have been utilised.

Saying that “Taiwan’s current amnesty law and the two sets of executions absolutely violate the two covenants,” Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty executive director Ms Lin Hsin-yi said the previous DPP government had already eliminated all mandatory death penalties in the legal code in 2006 and noted that the justice ministry now only plans to drop death penalties in laws that are rarely used or for statutes that are outdated.

The TAEDP executive director also described Ma’s statement that his government will only carry out death penalties after all legal channels for appeal have been completed as “a blatant lie”.

Lin said that defence lawyers never received a response to petitions filed on behalf of 44 death row inmates for presidential pardons on Mar. 29, 2010 and stated that an appeal to the Constitutional Court filed on behalf of one of the four convicts executed on Apr. 30, 2010 was still in process when he was shot.

Kao said the alliance would issue a “counter-report” by May 20, the date for Ma’s inauguration for a second four-year term.

Ma won re-election Jan. 14 with 51.6 percent of 13.35 million valid votes compared to 45.6 percent for centre-left DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen and 2.8 percent for conservative People First Party chairman James Soong.

However, approval ratings for Ma and his administration dipped to below 20 percent after his re-election in the wake of controversial decisions to permit imports of beef with ractopamine residue from the United States and to sharply hike power and fuel prices.

 
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